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Tiny private school to move in

Hand in Hand Academy will convert a home on Livingston Avenue.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

LUTZ -- Hillsborough County has approved the conversion of a home on Livingston Avenue into a private elementary school for up to 30 children.

Unless appealed, the recent decision by a county land use hearing officer clears educator Wendy Viles to move Hand in Hand Academy from her home in New Tampa's Cross Creek to a shady 2.6 acre setting at Livingston's intersection with Robertson Trail.

She said she plans to move her school by fall, opening with preschoolers, kindergarteners and first-graders. A parents group is planning a playground, she said.

Ms. Viles opened a preschool two years ago in her house, teaching six children. She later expanded the school to morning and afternoon programs. But a waiting list grew, and parents asked her to expand it to elementary level grades, she told the hearing officer a month ago.

That prompted her to shop for a school site.

"I drove by this piece of property and pulled over," she testified. "It was like something just pulled me there."

The house is surrounded by other large-lot homes and farmland. The county's zoning law allows elementary schools in any residential neighborhood.

Nearly 20 neighbors signed a petition against the school. Several complained in the hearing of traffic, the noise of frolicking children and a business moving into a residential area.

"I'm really upset," said neighbor Joe Panny, who circulated the petitions.

"It was a formality," complained neighbor Cathy Sopcik. "They didn't care what we said anyway."

Hearing officer Harold Youmans concluded that the school was permissible, and landscaping requirements would shield the neighboring properties from school noise.

His approval is final unless appealed this month. But both Panny and Mrs. Sopcik said they were inclined to appeal.

-- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or

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